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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Lingerie And The History Of Underwear

( Orginally published November 1933 )

Chapter 1 - Undies Remake The World
Chapter 2 - Flaming Youth Becomes Dignity Conscious

[Lingerie - Part 1]  [Lingerie - Part 2]  [Lingerie - Part 3]  [Lingerie - Part 4]  [Lingerie - Part 5] 

Part 4 - Flaming Youth Becomes Dignity Conscious

Fashions represent a state of mind. At any rate, that is as good a way of putting it as any. Marjorie had jumped up to a great "freedom." "Damn conventions!" But when the conventions had all been broken, what was the big idea in continuing to flout them? No kick then in "daring." Though in 1927 Marjorie's dressiest gown-of "transparent velvet"-was something that literally could be "pulled through a wedding ring," she was entirely amenable to the decree from Paris of the "fitted waistline." Remaining an Atalanta on the golf course and tennis courts, basketball fields and cross-country hikes, in the evening she got into a "picture frock" and became "utterly feminine." As she became muted to "graceful ballroom dancing," she bought girdles because she "looked better in them," and "didn't dare take them off."

Brassieres and bandeaux lengthened into what is now termed the foundation garment. Or, as stated by a merchandise manager prominent in the trade, "The manufacturers created the foundation garment and not only revolution their industry but brought to it a new and unprecedented prosperity." The corset department became by 1931 "the biggest profit-maker in virtually every important department store in the country."

"We had been told so often," Mr. Lee Simonson has remarked, "that women would never, never again lace themselves up that we had begun to believe it." Indeed, during the Corsetless Age the retail trade had largely assumed that this order of things was to be permanent. Mr. Simonson, who seems to indulge a sadly cynical view of Marjorie, continued his observations in The New Republic:

A revolution was never more dispassionately announced. The word corset, reviving all the terrible things physicians once said it did to the female liver, is something to recoil from; it gives an immediate sense of constriction and suffocation. And who does not want to be free? But a foundation garment-that is another matter. Here is another form of self-sacrificing service that American industry has evolved. The corset is now dedicated in a spirit of humility as a form of unobtrusive architecture to support feminine charm.

The researches of fabric-tire laboratories have of course not been in vain. Foundation garments do not have to be laced by a French maid who braces herself for the effort by sticking a knee into the small of her mistress's back. The more architectonic of these new foundations are fairly elaborate affairs, with rather complicated adjustments of flaps, overlappings and lacings, occasionally simplified by zippers. But the indispensable sense of freedom is preserved because any woman can strap herself in unaided.... In any case, corsets, whatever the ideal shape proves to be, will remain firm enough to make the feminine body take the right lines in the right places, resilient enough to attract the Life Force and sufficiently pliant to yield to it at the right moment.

From a different point of view, Mr. Amos Parrish declared, "The 1930 corset is the foundation of the 1930 mode ... the loveliest, the most feminine mode Fashion has ever known." And, with one momentary digression, the "utterly feminine" ideal has prevailed, recently with even an increasing emphasis, ever since.

In 1932, in the phrase of a Fashion journalist of twenty-two sought out by the Professor in his researches, Marjorie was more "woman-conscious" than she had ever been before. As we have noted earlier in our studies, the opening of 1933 saw the mannish flurry, as Mr. Weare Holbrook put it, "Doing all that can be done to make a miss as good as a male"; beginning with a man's hat-of a sort (which according to Mr. Holbrook, "Looked like something which might have been discarded by an Indian guide in the Canadian woods") ; and the flurry blowing up with the threat of pants for women.

With all the energy expended in "strapping her in," if a lady in the old boned days (when corsets were classed for selling by measurements around the body-waist or bust) happened to be one of the "shorts" or "talls," her corset didn't fit her perpendicularly. In 1930 manufacturers began to "retype" their lines in accord with Type Figure Charts arrived at by scientific research. Discussing "the scientific advance in corsetry" both as to manufacture and fitting, a valuable journal entitled the Dry Goods Reporter calls attention to the innumerable small corset shops that have sprung up throughout the country "owned or managed by women who have taken courses under trained instructors on how to fit a corset properly, these instructions being based on actual knowledge of the construction of the human figure."

Science answered to science. The new "two-way-stretch" clastic corsets, it is reported, met with the approbation of physicians and heads of gymnasiums, who felt that they were Irrncficial to most women as a support rather than injurious in compressing the organs. And, indeed, the illustrations in the new corset advertising began to look as though the models hacf been posed by a highly ingenious gymnasium instructor.

If Marjorie of the "nip-in" waistline had again, as Mr. Simonson puts it, "bought herself a figure" it was because, as an advertisement says, she "did not want to pay-and pay for that hip-less look." The term "flattering" came in, and, without precise reference to the dictionary definition of the word, dominated everything. "Flattering lines" of the figure required that underthings be "Underthins." And the problem of deliciously feminizing Marjorie and still retaining the "slenderizing idea" was solved by the creation of "All-inones." In 1932, according to the head of an advertising agency handling famous corset accounts, eighty-five per cent of the foundation garments manufactured embraced, in one way or another, two or three garments in one. Sometimes the lingerie ensemble was a combination slip and panties with a fitted brassiere top.

During 1933 there have been divers voices heard as to just what Marjorie's silhouette ought to be. Enormous shoulder ruffles and balloon sleeves have emerged again from one period of the past. In Paris the Mae West "epidemic" swept the salons. The hobble skirt has been heard of again. Augustabernard has launched a revival of the sheath silhouette, which perhaps is pretty much the same when called all sorts of things-the mermaid silhouette, the slip silhouette, the Greek column silhouette. This latter is not vividly reminiscent of the Greek column Marjorie.

At any rate, he concludes, what seems at the moment to be indicated for wear beneath is something on the order of "a supple, boneless foundation with emphasized uplift of Alencon lace, ingeniously cut to achieve that unbroken line that is the ideal of every chic woman today."